VAWA stands for the “Violence Against Women Act,” which was passed by Congress in 1994. One thing VAWA did was create a special route to lawful immigration status for victims of domestic abuse who normally must rely on their abusers to file for status for them. VAWA self-petitioning allows victims of abuse who are close relatives of US citizens and lawful permanent residents to file for status on their own.
The way regular immigration law works is that if you are the spouse, child, or parent of a US citizen (USC) or the spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident (LPR), the USC or LPR relative must file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) on your behalf for you to get legal status. That relative controls the process until you get your own lawful permanent residence (“green card”). VAWA changed that by allowing victims of abuse in this situation to get legal status without the participation or control of the abuser through a “VAWA self-petition.”